Confidence Training for Reactive &/or Anxiety Aggressive Dogs

This is so important I am going to put it right here on the top !!

Aggression is almost never a dominance thing… it is never solved by using force.. old crusty ideas that have seen their day !

Some stats indicate that less then 1% of domestic dogs have what it takes to be a Military Working Dog or Police Dog so, how many of our family pets fit into this idea of Alpha Dominate ?

If the trainer you are considering is still using these terms you are in a museum type situation, thank them for their insight and move on. Goes for the “training collar” that solves all.

There are many causes for aggression. One of the most common is fear or anxiety. In my theory fear and anxiety are not the same thing. Fear seems to always accompany anxiety but, you can have fear w/o having the medical condition of anxiety which goes way beyond just fear. Anxiety can be caused by one specific thing or it can be a general state of being. In Psychology we call this Generalized anxiety disorder and specific anxiety disorder.  In my opinion anxiety is always a physiological or biologically based event.  There are several theories of anxiety but, the important parts are to determine if the anxiety is caused by an experience, genetics, an illness or a combination of the two.

The fist step in determining if dog anxiety is the cause of aggressive behavior is to have your dog thoroughly checked out by a veterinarian.

The second step… Keep the dog SAFE and PROTECTED and get good professional assistance.


I can not emphasize how important it is to determine if a  medical condition is responsible for your dogs behavior. If there is a medical cause no amount of training in the universe will correct the problem. It the problem is a genetic problem this is also true. The best solution in these cases is often a combination of drugs and training. This will at least decrease the severity and sometime the frequency of your dogs anxiety.

A word on psychotropic medications. I am neither for not against these medications. What in the !)(() *#$ does that mean !!!! well, there are situations where well prescribed and managed medications are the right course of action. In some cases temporally using medication to assist dog behavior modification is also the best route.  In other cases, medication may not be a necessary course of action. Drugs alone will not cut it. Drugs, if determined to be the best solutions, should be used in combination with behavior modification and therapy.

Every case is different and you need to consult with at least two veterinarians to make sure meds are the right choice. There are also cases where diet, exercise and other environmental changes can be effective solutions. Is your dog in a create most of the time? In the majority of the cases I have worked on the cause is poor leadership, trust and respect or one of the other factors I just mentioned. Another point is that any medical condition can leave a dog or a person in a “self protection” state of mind and/or make them nervous. Imagine if you where sick and weak or constantly in pain.

If a dog has a sudden behavioral change see a vet asap.  If the behavior is chronic a “personality” kind of thing still get it checked out but, it is likely going to require Motley Dog Dog Training or someone like us. A great vet I recently met recommended blood and urine samples. Good to know.

Other causes for anxiety, depression and aggression are diet, lack of proper mental and physical exercise or living in an unpredictable, chaotic, neglected state. One of my favorites is also unrealistic expectations from their human.

The next step is to watch the dogs behavior around people and other dogs in a number of environments. Do you find that there is one situation that “sets your dog off”? Maybe there are two or three. Find these situations and be aware of how the dog progresses from sweet puppy to aggressive hound. Let Mot and I know about this progression and under what circumstances they occur.

Another important diagnostic tool Motley and I use is to have you let others walk your dog, interact with your dog and take your dog into these situations. It is important that you are not there. Trust me. Let Motley know how your dog does with others. Maybe you take your dog to doggie day care? you have a dog walker? How do they do with your dog. Let us know.

Just a side note: dogs that are anxious or fearful will not take treats. I often use this knowledge as a measure of improvement in given situations in combination with reading the dogs behavior. The most common reasons a dog will refuse food reward is do to illness, pain, fatigue or depression, anxiety and fear. Lack of motivation is very rare and there are other clues that your dog is not motivated so, NEVER withhold a proper diet from your dog as a means of motivation. Dogs need consistent nutrition, it is likely not motivation and if it is you need to accept who your dog is just like they deal with your short comings. Have a pro check out your dog as well as a vet. This also goes for the super idea of back tying a dog to build frustration and motivation. The best rewards are intrinsic rewards. like the dogs intrinsic desire to eat. Make being with you something your dog wants to do intrinsically and accept your dog for who they are, then you have it.

Once we have this information we can design a special set of dog training exercises and activities to lessen your dogs anxiety. This takes time, consistency and commitment.  This is not TV, it is reality and in reality your dog’s behavior will improve over time.  The amount of time depends on your dedication and how often you work together.

An important note: if the trainer suggests that you are part of the problem don’t take it personally. Dogs know how we really feel, even if we try to hide it.. and they know before we do in many cases. So if you are scared or nervous your dog will pick up on that. It has to be addressed. You can not, I repeat can not change your dogs behavior with out changing your own.  There is a method of teaching a dog how to behave differently in response to your anxiety but, these dogs go through a rigorous training and selection process.  You need to see your dog as a mirror of what you are feeling. Yep, dogs are just that damn smart. If your dog mirrors your emotions of fear and anxiety we need to work on you both or you will just feed off of one another.  This is a good reason to hire a psychologist over an animal behaviorist.

It is also important to get professional help. If the techniques are used incorrectly you can make the problem worse. Most dog trainers I have checked out, and yes I have checked out a bounce … do not know how to employ these techniques correctly. Also, these exercises can be risky.  A frightened dog will bite. It may bite you or anyone else that it can reach. This is not a situation you want to face alone. If we are not right for you. Please find a qualified trainer to help.

Believe it or not confidence begins with making the dog feel safe and secure. Safety and security come from following a confident, trusted leader not by “coddling” if you do not understand this statement please email Motley and we will help. Very important. Then we move to Motley Dog Dog Training Evolution Zero. You never, try to run out and “expose” the dog try to “socialize” the dog or use any of the creative collars that are on the market. If anyone suggests this, even if they claim to be the worlds greatest dog trainer ….. RUN ! This also goes for the misguided idea that having strangers give your dog a treat will somehow give your dog the warm fuzzys over people.

Till next time




There is no such thing as a “Reactive” Dog.. think about it … if someone farts on a crowed elevator and you give them a look.. you reacted.. if you yell and scream and throw something at them … your reacted and if you cower in a corner and gasp for air… yep you reacted. A qualified dog trainer will know this and want to observe you and your dog and figure out what is really going on. They will also discuss the same medical, pet care and environmental concerns we have discussed in this post, if not, please find a different dog trainer. You can always email Motley:

[email protected]

Check out Motely’s site  Motley Dog Dog Training